By Rachel Madison
If you’ve ever driven down Ranch Road 1869 on the way to downtown Liberty Hill, then you’ve probably driven by the old white house near the railroad tracks with the broken windows and missing front door. You’ve probably wondered, what’s the history behind that house? And maybe you’ve even wondered that more so now that the home has undergone a major facelift and is open as a salon.
The home, built in 1920 according to the Williamson County Appraisal District, was originally constructed and owned by Andrew Mather, who was born to Scottish immigrant Samuel Mather in 1851. After growing up in Gabriel Mills, near Georgetown, and working with his father at the grain mill, Andrew Mather became a Texas Ranger. It’s reported that he was commended for his service in establishing the law and order on the Texas frontier, where he was even rumored to have taken down “the largest bear in Texas history” with just a lasso and a Bowie knife, according to the book Captain Jeff by W.J. Maltby.
He later married Mary Carrell, and had three sons, Robert Lee Mather, Charley Parker Mather and another who died at birth. In their later years, Andrew and Mary Mather moved to Liberty Hill where they built their home next to the railroad tracks.
Local historian Gary Spivey said the front of the now salon that faces RR 1869 was actually the back of the house when it was originally built.
“The house was built directly beside the train depot and 1869 didn’t exist at that point,” he said. “The road ran between the train depot and that house. The big porch on the backside was the front of the house. If you look down the railroad tracks straight into Liberty Hill, that was the main road before 1869.”
According to The Mather Clan: The First Two Hundred Years, a book compiled by Dorothy Browning, Andrew Mather “was a firm believer in a daily siesta on his front porch in Liberty Hill following lunch” and every morning “he would ride into town, greeting and talking to everyone he met.”
“The old-timers used to talk about [Andrew] sitting on the front porch and how he would visit with everyone when they’d go by,” Spivey said. “The Mather family was a pretty prominent family in our area for quite a few years.”
The stories about her great-grandfather Andrew Mather are interesting, said Liberty Hill resident Debbie Mather Rampy, who grew up hearing all about him.
“He’d gather up a whole bunch of people and take them to lunch at his house, and my great-grandmother never knew how many people he was bringing for lunch, but she always had enough,” Rampy said. “He was a well-known, friendly and outgoing guy.”
Rampy has several more stories, and some memories, of the home her great-grandfather built. Several Mather family members have lived in the home since the original owners, including Rampy’s great aunt and great uncle and her parents.
“When it was built, the home had two parts to it,” she said. “The south bedroom was closed off from the rest of the house. You had to go on the porch to get into that room. I always heard it was servant’s quarters, but I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t know that my great-grandparents had servants.”
Rampy added that when she was a kid, her Great Uncle Charley Mather and Great Aunt Maggie Mather lived in the home.
“When [Andrew] died, [Uncle Charley] took the house in [Liberty Hill] and my grandpa, his brother, took the family farm out in Gabriel [Mills],” Rampy said. “Uncle Charley died years before I was born, and Aunt Mag didn’t live there when I was growing up because she took a job in Burnet where she was live-in nurse. The house was empty until she came back sometime in the 1960s. I remember going there and visiting with my mom, and in the summertime she always kept the doors open in the breezeway and the house was always cool.”
Rampy also remembered her Aunt Mag’s car—an early 1950s black Plymouth—that she always kept shined up.
“She was proud of it,” she said. “It was a really nice little car. She kept it parked in the driveway between the house and the railroad tracks.”
After her Aunt Mag went to a nursing home in the late 1960s or early 1970s, the home sat vacant for a while, Rampy said, until her parents decided to rent it out.
“Several families here in town lived there and several that were from out of town lived there,” she said. “Then my parents moved there in 1987. My parents were Charley Lindell, or Huldy as everybody called my dad, and May Ozell Mather. They lived there until they went to the nursing home.”
One winter, Rampy’s brother, current Liberty Hill resident James Mather, stayed with their mother while she lived there. She’d only heat the front of the house and her bedroom down at the other end, and her brother got the bedroom at the front.
“Mom bought him an electric blanket, but he always said it felt like she was having him stay in the icebox because it was so cold,” Rampy said. “And the wall color in the front bedroom came about in a funny way. My sister had all this leftover paint from painting the rest of the house before my parents moved in, and when we got to that room my sister mixed all the leftover paint and the walls turned out orange. But my parents left it; they didn’t care.”
Rampy added that where the salon’s parking lot is now is where her mom’s garden used to be.
“I tilled that thing quite a few times for her,” she said. “Daddy did it as long as he was able and then I usually tilled it for her after that. I did it until the fire ants got too bad.”
After her parents moved there, the home also became a gathering spot for Rampy and her siblings.
“We met my mom there every Sunday,” she said. “My mom would always fry chicken on Sunday and my sisters and I would meet there and visit all afternoon. I sure do miss that. I had two sisters, but they are both gone now.”
One of the last family get togethers Rampy remembers having in the home was to celebrate her mom’s birthday in May 1997.
“The whole family was there—all the kids and the grandchildren,” she said.
After both of her parents passed away, the home sat vacant. It was sold to James Mather in 2005, according to the Williamson County Appraisal District, and he then sold it to another Liberty Hill resident, Johnny Garner, in 2007, who owned it until Brent and Kayla Witbeck took ownership in January 2017, according to the appraisal district. During those years, the house remained vacant and fell into disrepair.
The Witbecks have been working for the last couple of months to turn the old home into a full-service salon. The salon, called Radiant, will provide hair services, nail services, lash extensions and waxing. The front of the salon will also have a boutique area where the Witbecks plan to sell unique gift items, such as clothing, candles and jewelry.
“This will be a booth rental salon,” Kayla Witbeck said. “Everyone who works here will be self-employed, and I’m just providing the building and a team atmosphere.”
When the Witbecks decided to check out the home for a possible business location, Kayla Witbeck admits it was in pretty rough shape.
“It was completely gutted and there was nothing much to it,” she said. “But when I saw it, I saw its potential and knew what I wanted to do with it. I graduated from beauty school in 2012 and started my own lash business in 2013, so I was ready for the next step in my career. When I saw this place, I saw my next step.”
The Witbecks are high school sweethearts and have some history with Liberty Hill as Brent Witbeck grew up in town and played for the Liberty Hill High School football team.
“I spent a lot of time here growing up and I’ve always loved the town, so it was a no brainer to go ahead and plant my roots for my next step here,” Kayla Witbeck said.
When construction first started, concerned citizens stopped in frequently to ask what was going to happen to the home, Kayla Witbeck said. She had to reassure more than a few people that the home wasn’t going anywhere—it was just getting a facelift.
“Everyone wants to feel connected to this place,” she said. “We really wanted to keep the house beautiful. It was basically already built the way we wanted it; it just needed a facelift. That’s why we sanded it down and kept all the original wood. The only thing that’s new is an addition we built in the back.”
The Witbecks couldn’t find the original interior window trim anywhere, so they made their own to replicate the original. They added a few walls here and there to create a couple of rooms and a larger bathroom, and have added in a variety of unique touches such as a crystal chandelier in the boutique area and a Tiffany blue front door. Besides some gray trim and the Tiffany blue doors, the rest of the home has been restored to its original white color.
“I loved the original white house, so we’re just adding that little pop of color,” Kayla Witbeck said.
In addition to adding a parking lot next to the salon, the Witbecks also plan on doing landscaping in the future on the land around the salon. They plan on keeping the large oak trees that dot the property.
The focal point inside the salon is the original fireplace and mantel, which the Witbecks knew needed to stay.
“All we did with that was sand it down and cover it with a clear lacquer,” Kayla Witbeck said. “We liked the quirkiness of it.”
Jeff Rollwitz, general contractor with Rollwitz Construction, has managed the project since the beginning.
“It was interesting to see how they framed the roof and other things they did,” he said. “The way they built it back then was something I haven’t seen before. I was really impressed with how straight the house was for being around 100 years old. The section we added on was within [an inch] of being square. It’s been a fun project. It’s a good, sturdy house.”
Rollwitz added that originally, the home had a lot of wainscoting throughout, which the Witbecks wanted to be replicated during construction.
“We got it pretty close to the original,” he said. “My guys also did a lot of work and put hours and hours into the fireplace. A lot of people don’t have that much patience, but they took their time and did a good job.”
Rampy said it’s wonderful that the Witbecks are finally going to do something with the home, rather than having it sit there empty.
“It’s great that they are restoring it,” she said. “I’m so happy they kept the fireplace. It’s just a part of the house and it was always so beautiful. I don’t know what ever happened to the original front door, but it was a beautiful stained-glass door.”
Radiant’s grand opening event will be held Nov. 4 from 12 Noon to 3 p.m. The salon is located at 2921 Ranch Road 1869, and hours will vary based on each stylist’s schedule.